Exactly three months ago, President Obama’s approval rating was a healthy 58%. Fresh off his successful reelection campaign, just 36% of Americans disapproved of the job Obama was doing. Despite daily fawning by the media, over the last three months, Obama has suffered a net 21-point negative swing in his approval ratings. According to the latest Gallup poll, only 46% of Americans approve of Obama’s handling of his job, while 45% disapprove.
The honeymoon is definitely over. Worse for Obama, however, is that he seems to have squandered the goodwill a President gets with reelection faster than any modern President. At this time in 2005, George W. Bush enjoyed a 52% approval rating, six points higher than Obama. Clinton’s approval rating at this time in 1997 was 59%. Reagan’s was 60% at this time in 1985.
Obama misread his reelection as a mandate for his policies. Throughout his Presidency, voters have been more attracted to Obama’s personal qualities rather than his policies. In the wake of his reelection, however, Obama made a strong lurch to the left, embracing gun control and aggressively pushing tax increases over spending cuts. He also struck a very belligerent tone with Republicans and the Congress, submitting a range of divisive cabinet nominees.
The reversal in Obama’s political fortunes is clearly not lost on the White House. In the past few weeks, Obama has taken a more conciliatory tone and publicly tried to reach out to Republicans. He has offered more assurances that he is open to meaningful entitlement reform. He has also largely removed himself from the gun control debate, delegating the effort to VP Joe Biden.
He has also embarked on a foreign trip, beginning a visit today to the Middle East. Second-term Presidents almost always eventually narrow their focus to foreign policy, as their lame-duck status blunts their domestic political capital. Obama seems to have started this tradition sooner than his recent predecessors.
Obama came off his reelection with the hopes of building a permanent progressive movement. He seems to have moved too fast on this front, however. Gallup’s tracking trends suggest a long-slog over the next four years.